Karoo farmers lose millions due to drought

2018-09-26 20:41
Oudtshoorn river. (File, Supplied)

Oudtshoorn river. (File, Supplied)

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Oudtshoorn farmers, who had their own Day Zero almost a year ago when their irrigation dams dried up, have suffered losses of hundreds of millions of rands in lost production.

As the third year of drought in the Little Karoo continues, the industry is expecting a decline in ostrich meat on the market.

While recent rain has increased from 30% to 40% the water levels of Raubenheimer Dam, which supplies the town of Oudtshoorn, farmers have had no such luck.

The two local irrigation dams, the Kammanassie and the Stompdrift, are effectively empty with levels of between 5% and 6% capacity. They have not supplied irrigation water for almost a year.

The ostrich industry, which forms a major part of the Little Karoo's agricultural sector, has been hard hit as producers have not been able to grow feed for their flocks.

Piet Kleyn, CEO of the Ostrich Business Chamber, said this year's drought was one of the worst on record.

Diminishing rainfall

"I grew up here, and I can't recall a drought as bad as this. The impact has been tremendous. Farmers have lost hundreds of millions of rands in lost production. They had no irrigation water so [they] could not produce feed on the farms – mostly lucerne, but some barley and maize – so [farmers] have to buy all their feed. Feed is very expensive, and then there is the added cost of transport," Kleyn said.

As a result, ostrich farmers had slowed down production, and the business chamber was anticipating a drop in the number of birds that would be slaughtered for the market this year.

"These are really challenging times, the biggest production area for ostrich farming is very, very dry. Sheep farmers are having the same problem. Vegetable seed production is quite an important part of agriculture in this area and many farmers could not plant crops because irrigation water has been cut off for almost a year now. And the last two years we have very low rainfall," Kleyn said.

The region falls in an area that gets winter and summer rainfall, but Kleyn said it appeared the winter rainfall had been diminishing over the years.

Livestock and people living on the farms are able to get drinking water through a scheme that supplies borehole water via pipelines.

Oudtshoorn's municipal manager Allen Paulse said although Raubenheimer Dam's water levels had increased from 30% to 40%, the rainfall forecast "for the foreseeable future is not too good".

'Name and shame' campaign

"With 40% capacity we are better than we were, but we're not out of the woods. The situation is dire for farmers. We've got water restrictions and most people are complying, except for a few renegades. We issued a R1 000 spot fine to a municipal official who was washing his bakkie with municipal water. Someone saw him and videoed it. It was a very expensive bucket of water," Paulse said.

The town has enough water to last until May 2019.

"Meanwhile, we are pulling out all the stops. We've got drought tariffs and a huge campaign to get people to use water sparingly. The message we want to get out is we don't want a Day Zero. Water is not a commodity that can be manufactured in factories."

The municipality had introduced Level 4 water restrictions, limiting households to 12 kilolitres a month.

The names and addresses of the three households with the highest water consumption "will receive coverage in the local newspapers – 'name and shame'", the council decided at a special meeting on August 30.

The municipality is drilling two boreholes and has applied for disaster relief funding, which is still being processed.

R200m water project

The council is pinning its hopes on an underground bulk water project, the proposed Blossoms groundwater scheme.

The project which has a total cost of around R200m involves the national, provincial and local government, and has been under way for some years.

The aquifer is part of the Table Mountain Group.

"It's a huge study to determine the volumes available. Once that is determined, it could lead to huge production for Greater Oudtshoorn," Paulse said.

While the average dam level for Cape Town has risen to 74.2% this week, compared to 37% this time last year, the average level of all the dams in the Western Cape is 64%.

But this average provincial figure masks some of the province's critically low dam levels, particularly in the Karoo where the average dam level is 20%.

Relaxed restrictions

Western Cape MEC for Local Government, Environment Affairs and Development Planning Anton Bredell said the Karoo region was still "under pressure" from the drought.

Bredell said the Gouritz River catchment area, which includes Oudtshoorn and Beaufort West, had seen a slight improvement, but needed very good summer rains for a full recovery.

"In some areas, restrictions are being lessened and this may lead to people being less water cautious. I urge people to make efficiency changes in water use permanent."

Theewaterskloof, the biggest of the six dams that supply water to Cape Town, irrigation farmers and smaller towns, is 56% full. This dam holds just over half the water in all six dams when full.

Last year it fell to 37%.

The City of Cape Town's water restrictions will be lowered from level 6 to level 5 from October 1.

This will mean an increase in the amount of water each person may use in a day from 50 to 70 litres. The change in restrictions will come with a slight lowering of water tariffs.

Read more on:    water  |  drought

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